Monday, November 26, 2012

2012 NASCAR - Chase for the Sprint Cup

While I cover every sport that is mainstream in this country, there are two sports accounts that I am directly in charge of: NHL and NASCAR.  It is known that I'm a pretty good hockey fan (as I turned down the Blackhawks team photographer job several years ago), so it makes sense that I was assigned to it in my current position.  So how the heck did I end up with NASCAR?  Growing up in Chicago I knew nothing about the sport.  I got stuck with it simply because the season has very little overlap with the NHL season.

However, over the years I've learned the best ways to go about shooting and covering these races and GASP.... even start to enjoy going to them. 

For those of you who are not familiar with NASCAR, it is a very long season of nearly 40 races.  However the final 10 are considered part of "The Chase" which is essentially their version of the playoffs.  The top 12 drivers in all the earlier races then get a chance to get re-ranked in those final ten races with the overall points leader in those 10 races taking the championship.  I attended three of these races this year: Chicagoland, Dover, and Homestead.

Not too much special in the first race.  The Chicagoland Raceway is known as a "boring" race.  In other words, there are no crashes, and the cars don't run in tight packs.  Don't get me started on the physics or mechanics of racing, since I have no clue how any of that works.  Just trust me that for some reason, the cars in Chicagoland spread out very fast and also rarely crash.  So basically we show up, shoot a few cars racing each other, then shoot them celebrating.  Boring race = boring pictures.  Brad Keselowski ended up winning that race, and little did we know it foreshadowed his eventual championship win...

The next race I did in the Chase schedule was Dover, which is more affectionately known as the Monster Mile.  I was looking forward to this one, because it is such a short track and is also known for some pretty epic crashes.  The racing that weekend ended up being pretty clean, but I was happy with my first visit to Dover.  Being such a small track, it was very easy to walk around to all areas of the track and get lots of different angles and views of the cars.  It so happens that Keselowski also won this race.

The final race for me was one I do almost every year: Homestead.  This race track can be classified as one of those "boring" race tracks, but it ends up being pretty nice for pictures.  Going into it, I sort of had a plan of what I wanted to do.  One thing I wanted to do was hang out on the backstretch and try to get some pics racing past me with palm tress or the track with sunset in the background. 

Now while I got those shots above, I must say it is actually WAY more difficult to get that then it looks.  That particular photo position is a bit unusual for NASCAR.  At most tracks, the openings are in the turns so that you can get the cars coming at you head on.  However, that hole is on a straightaway.  Needless to say, you can just stick your head and arms out the hole to get the cars straight on unless you want to lose body parts.  On top of that, the cars actually race very very very close to the wall.  So unless you are shooting with a very wide angle lens, you will not get the whole car in the picture.  So essentially the only way you can get the shots you see above is to hold the camera really high above your head, and try to pan the camera right when the car drives by.  Oh yeah, and the cars are going at about 140mph and are separated from your body by an 18-inch concrete barrier.  It's actually kind of scary out there.

As the laps wound down, I started the long walk back to the start/finish line.  I turned around and noticed some clouds lit red due to the setting sun.  It made for a nice frame of the eventual championship winner.

At the start/finish line, I was tasked with shooting the burnout celebration, as well as any potential restarts to the race after cautions.  Typically you shoot from the infield side of the fence, but because we were with a crew of four people at this race, I felt like it was worth while to shoot from this different angle.

And finally to finish the night, off to victory lane to celebrate the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012 US Open - Week 2

On September 3, 2012, I returned for the second week of the US Open and stuck around to the very end.  It was a lot easier working the second week of the famous tournament, simply because with every passing day, there was much less of the field remaining.

Now recall in a previous post, the action in week 1 was pretty much spread across the tennis center's 17 courts so I was pretty much bouncing around the place all day.  It was a lot easier in week 2 with all the remaining matches pretty much consolidated to the two main courts.  Now while that was easier on my body in that I didn't have to haul heavy cameras and lenses back and forth and up and down all day long, there are still challenges that come with that convenience.  With fewer matches, amongst fewer courts, with the same amount of media, securing photo positions got a lot more difficult.  So a lot of the creative stuff I shot in week 1 was not really possible in week 2.  If I left my spot in the photo dugout, I probably would not have easily gotten it back.  As you can imagine, tennis action from ground level kind of looks the same after a while, so in reality, the people in the dugout are essentially on "reaction watch."  So while I was down there, I was mostly just camping out waiting for good reaction photos and match point.  Fortunately with it being week two and pretty much all quarterfinals and semifinals matches (and the women's final), the reactions and celebrations were usually quite nice:

Now for the men's final on September 10, I was assigned to the elevated concourse position (I deferred and gave a more experienced colleague of mine his preferred spot down low).  That was fine by me, as with the 4pm ET start time, I was again able to get creative with the sunlight and long afternoon shadows.

As the sun continued to set, I climbed to the top of Ashe Stadium and got some nice views of the venue, as well as the New York City skyline in the distance.

Finally after nearly five hours of play, Andy Murray defeated Novak Djokovic to win the tournament.  As photographers, we pretty much expect a really excited, over the top celebration from the winner, but apparently Murray didn't get the memo (Serena did though... see above).... an in fact almost looks like he lost.

So while the end of the tournament celebration was quite disappointing, it was still a great two weeks for me, and I hope the US Open gets added to my list of annual work trips.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

2012 US Open - Celebrity Watch

It's New York City: the stars come out in order to see, but also be seen.

I despise the term paparazzi, because that isn't what we photojournalists do on a daily basis, but photographing celebrities is something we are still trained to do.  So when they visit the US Open, as they do in force in the last weekend of the Open, we photograph them.  In the sick and twisted society we live in, it's what pays a lot of the bills. Even though my company is a dedicated sports service, we have gotten People Magazine clips, and even a GQ cover with our images.

So, how many of these celebrities can you identify?  I'll give you hints.


Musicians / recording artists:

WAGs (wives and girlfriends):

And finally, everybody else:

Friday, August 31, 2012

2012 US Open - Week 1

I am the first to admit, that I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to have gone to so many different sporting events in my career.  However, attending a tennis major is something I have not been able to do... until last week when I was asked to cover the US Open in New York City.  Although I was never very good at playing it, I really enjoy the game of tennis and was extremely excited at the opportunity to do not just go out and edit the final major of the season, but put in 11-12 hours of photography per day.

Now on the surface, you would think that tennis is an extremely easy sport to shoot.  Pick a player, focus, shoot.  Well yes and no, and this is a huge point of frustration for me as an editor when other photographers shoot it.  The fact of the matter is, I would say a vast majority of photographers pay absolutely no attention to backgrounds.  And as you know, backgrounds are a huge point of emphasis in my photography.  In my opinion, that attention to clean details is what separates the average joe from the elite.  It's those that put in the extra thought into developing their photos that makes them the best in the world.  Getty Images is famous for this style of photography, and to me it's not surprising that their photographers are some of the most well known in the world, and their agency has the most commercial licenses for the most leagues in our industry.

As this was my first time to the US Open, I knew it would take a day or two to get acclimated to the grounds, and really get to know how to move about the multiple courts over the sprawling tennis park.  So I shot a bit conservatively the first day, utilizing the courtside photo positions to get a lot of "standard" action photos from down low.  Shooting from down in those photo positions is pretty simple... pick a player, wait til' they swing, and hope they are doing it with no ball boys or umpires in the background.

In the evening session, there was the opening ceremonies so I ran upstairs to get a nice overall view of the fireworks display.

For the night cap, I also decided to start getting a bit more creative, and shot a wide angle view from down on court level.  It makes for a pretty dramatic scene with the large stadium in the background.

Now that I got my bearings and really learned my way around the multiple courts, and learned when the sun sets on each stadium, where the best angles were and ant what time of day, it was time to get creative.  Climbing high into the stands of each of the three main stadiums (Ashe, Armstrong, and Grandstand) could lead to some very dramatic images from unique angles:

I'm back home now for Labor Day weekend, but I will be returning to New York next week to finish off this two-week tournament.  I was working solo most of the first week, but in week two I will be joined by a USA Today staff photographer.  He'll most likely be working in Arthur Ashe Stadium (the main court) most of the time, which is fine by me because it will give me the opportunity to work new angles that I wasn't able to get to in my first few days there.  Check back then for some more images!